Palm Springs with a Baby = Relaxing in the California sun!
Normally when the Chicago weather turns brutally cold, I dig around for a low-cost tropical flight and hop out as soon as possible. Last year, however, I was very pregnant when the first Polar Vortex gripped Chicago, and had no recourse but to daydream of a time when I would feel the sun’s warmth again. My baby was born in a blizzard (nothing like an ambulance ride in 10 inches of snow!) and the first thing I said to my husband after making sure she was ok (perfect health!) was “when do we get out of here?”
I didn’t mean the hospital – I meant the land of snow. I knew planning a warm destination getaway would be good not only for my winter blues, but the postpartum ones too. It was time to book our Palm Springs with a baby winter trip.
As first time parents, we knew we wanted a destination that would be more “all inclusive” and less “DIY,” which is our normal way of traveling. After detailing the pros and cons of beaches versus desert (sandy baby diapers? Not yet, thank you…..) we zeroed in on Palm Springs, California. Two hours from LA, with its own international airport (and direct flights from Chicago), Palm Springs with a baby offered pools, palm trees and pina coladas – my 3 key points!
Finding a Palm Springs hotel haven
We flew in, landing around noon and drove straight to our hotel, the Saguaro Palm Springs. Originally built in the 50s as a bland motor inn, the Saguaro was recently remodeled and features a festive rainbow color scheme. It has a very lively pool area with two hot tubs and poolside bar service, as well as two restaurants that are run by Iron Chef Jose Garces. Most importantly, every room has a balcony: a critical feature when you have a baby that will fall asleep around 6pm. We had booked a King Suite, which featured a seating area separated from the sleeping area, giving us a quiet zone for naps and bedtime and a more active area to lay out a play mat. In addition, every room has a balcony – a delightful place to spend an evening while the baby sleeps inside. It was ideal for our needs!
Palm Springs with a Baby
Our first night in in Palm Springs with a baby, we were so exhausted we decided to take it easy and eat at one of the hotel restaurants. We packed our daughter Avi in to the baby carrier and wandered down the hallway – a long enough stroll to knock her out to dreamland.
Luckily, one of the hotel restaurants, Tinto, had some space for us. A Basque inspired tapas-style restaurant helmed by Next Iron Chef winner Jose Garces, Tinto features small plates and a wonderful outdoor-dining patio. We settled in and ordered the tasting menu – a superbly-orchestrated series of dishes that offered almost a full tasting of the menu. From the first bite of the house-cured olives, we knew it was the right decision. Smoked marcona almonds that tasted of bacon were perfectly paired with a white txakoli wine, sending us both into summertime bliss. The bean salad was revelatory, followed by the lightest, most savory spanish torta I’d ever enjoyed – topped with a saffron aioli. I still dream of that dish. The main courses included a seared pork belly and dessert rounded it off. Paired with wine, it came in around $100 per person, certainly not cheap, but a fantastic high-end option that didn’t break the bank. We were thrilled to see other families sitting down over the course of the evening with children of all ages enjoying their meals.
Take on the town
In the last century, Palm Springs became a glamorous retreat for Hollywood types. Elvis, Frank Sinatra and Marlene Dietrich all had homes there, and over the last decade its gone through a revival celebrating its mid-century modern architecture. As a design town, there’s plenty to see, both as a self-guided tour or via tour guide. We decided to try the self-guided tour, as we weren’t sure how Avi would deal with the heat and the day. The Palm Springs Visitor Center puts out a fantastic map that lets your drive around and see major buildings of distinction on your own time. Some design history background will help the casual viewer understand.
Speaking of design, the Design District is a few blocks of downtown Palm Springs that features art galleries, antique shops and furniture stores. You can score your grandma’s style at any number of high-end shops, and then outfit yourself or your home at the marvelous Trina Turk shop, offering swoon worthy dresses, bedding and home accessories. Wander a little further south and you’re in downtown Palm Springs. Centered on a square that features replicas of the first area homes (the tiny log cabins look like playhouses!), there are plenty of restaurants, bars and shops to enjoy.
One of the beautiful features of the Palm Springs area is the landscape – nestled between the Mojave desert to the north and the Colorado desert to the east, and tucked in between the San Jacinto and the San Bernadino Mountains, the lush manicured grounds of central Palm Springs open on to austere desert landscapes. There are plenty of hiking options around the area, as well as a tramway that carts visitors to the top of Mount San Jacinto. A little further afield, Joshua Tree National Park offers a beautiful scenic destination – even for those of us who love the album but can’t take a hike!
Another key feature of Palm Springs: said Springs! Just north of Palm Springs in the foothills overlooking the valley lies Desert Hot Springs. At first glance it’s just another nondescript desert town, beige and bland. But behind some of those high walls lie surprisingly lush gardens surrounding natural mineral spring pools. Many offer Day Spa privileges for a fee – and most allow pool access with a paid treatment. I made a deal with my husband: he would take care of Avi one morning while I enjoyed a massage and wrap, and then he could enjoy the treatments the next day. With a handshake to seal the deal, I sought out my much desired relaxation.
Spa bliss required
After scouring the interwebz and parsing through Yelp and Google reviews, I settled on Tuscan Springs Hotel and Spa. Privately owned, not too slick but with plenty of personality, it seemed the ideal relaxing getaway. Driving up, it felt like I was pulling up to an average suburban home – but as soon as I walked into the lobby and saw the gorgeous cobalt tiled pool beyond, I knew I had made the right decision. The 2-hour Tuscan Serenity package was perfect – the room was very comfortable, the therapist was completely relaxing and professional, and the essential oils were transportive! Afterwards, you’re invited to enjoy the 3 pools for the course of the day. Dipping in the hot tub, overlooking Mt San Jacinto in the distance, (some of) the stress of new motherhood melted away.
It was quiet off season, when I visited, and so I dared to ask if I might come back the following day with my infant. The owner was very cautious but said that since it was slow and everyone was checking out the following morning, my infant wouldn’t bother anyone. So the next day as my husband checked in for his massage, Avi and I donned our swimsuits and enjoyed the natural spring waters. All the pools are spring fed and chemical free, so wonderfully safe for sensitive baby skin. The mid-temperature pool was about 98 degrees – perfect for Avi’s first splashing. When we tired of the waters, we lay on the daybeds, enjoying the breezes and the views.
Cocktail hour + baby
Back in Palm Springs, the lush life beckons around cocktail hour. For a magical out-of-desert experience, visit the Parker Hotel around cocktail time. In the old Gene Autry estate, the Parker is a surreal experience – it’s as if you’ve been teleported into an oasis, and you might expect to find peacocks strutting across the lawn at every turn. The Lemonade Stand is hidden away on the grounds, and offers marvelous adult lemonade beverages. Inside the main hotel building, you’ll find the Lobby Bar, glamorously gilded and mirrored. It’s a fantastic departure from the everyday and incredibly spot in Palm Springs with a baby – I was even able to breastfeed at the Lobby Bar without a second glance. (Full disclosure: it was early, there were few other patrons and I did use a cover-up – all those mirrors made me nervous!)
Overall, Palm Springs was the perfect first family vacation: enough to keep us occupied without stressing us out to see everything; delightfully relaxed but engaging with fabulous food and wine. I can’t wait to go back and enjoy it again.
Know before you go
- Be sure to check the schedule – as a weekend destination from LA, Palm Springs can be overwhelmingly busy during the Coachella festival, certain LGBT events, Modernism Week, and various other times of the year.
- Make sure you check with your hotel to see if they will be hosting any all-night pool parties during your travel dates.
Things to do in Palm Springs
- Mid century modern architecture and design
- Palm Springs Art Museum
- Fun shopping
- Homes of the stars
- Natural wonders, State and National Parks
What to pack for Palm Springs
- hiking gear if you want to visit the State and National Parks of the area
- poolside reading
- Find more things to do in Palm Springs with kids
Favorite Palm Springs Restaurants
- Tinto in the Saguaro Hotel for a quick lunch, or a fun dinner splurge, and great wine
- El Jefe in the Saguaro Hotel for Mexican street food: tacos, elote salad, margaritas. The generous in-house happy hour draws families from all over – we chatted with a multi-generational family while playing ping pong and sipping our cocktails.
- Cheeky’s for breakfast and lunch
- King’s Highway at the Ace Hotel – in a VERY remodeled Denny’s, the Ace doesn’t blink if you’re ordering a beer while baby is nursing. Easy food, great atmosphere and very laid back.
- On the way to Joshua Tree National Park: Gonzo Tacos, Yucca Valley: in a strip mall featuring 3 highly rated taco joints, Gonzo stands out for their fusion tacos: chicken tikka tacos, blending Indian and Mexican flavors; pork al pastor is sweet and juicy with pineapple and some heat; and the Gonzo Mac n Cheese is deserving of all its accolades!
- Click for more great Palm Springs restaurant suggestions
Where to stay in Palm Springs
- Saguaro Palm Springs has great rooms in a very colorful setting. A wonderful pool and hot tub, nice on site dining and a spa make it comfortable enough that you could just stay on the hotel grounds the entire stay.
- Parker Palm Springs – when you’re ready to splurge, the Parker will take care of you.
Forgot something? No worries- there’s a Target, Trader Joe’s and plenty more shopping options within a short drive of downtown to get you any gear, diapers, etc. that you may require.